Published by BBC NEWS - 7th January 2022

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Labour’s shadow health secretary says he would not “shirk” from using private providers to reduce NHS waiting lists.

Wes Streeting told the BBC’s Nick Robinson it proved “effective” the last time his party was in power.

But he put the blame for needing the option at the Tories’ door, saying the government had “run down the NHS”.

The Labour MP also told the Political Thinking podcast his own experience of cancer made him “even more passionate” about bringing down waiting lists.

Mr Streeting’s remarks appear to show a change in direction for the party.

Labour’s last two leaders, Jeremy Corbyn and Ed Miliband, focused their election campaigns on protecting the NHS in England from privatisation.

But under the New Labour government of the late 1990s and 2000s, the role of the private sector increased in the health service.

Waiting lists in the NHS in England are at a record high as a result of coronavirus.

As of September 2021, 5.8 million patients were waiting for surgery – such as hip or knee replacements – with 300,000 waiting more than a year, compared with just 1,600 before the pandemic.

Mr Streeting told Nick Robinson the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown “showed using the private sector to bring down NHS waiting lists [in England] is effective [and] it’s popular with patients”.

But he warned the move would “come at a cost”, blaming the past decade of Conservative rule for the health service’s problems.

He told the podcast: “No doubt the government will turn to the private sector, no doubt the next Labour government may have to use private sector capacity to bring down NHS waiting lists, and I won’t shirk that for a minute to get people better health outcomes.

“But I will be pretty furious at the costs involved, because it shouldn’t be the case that because Tory governments run down the NHS, we have to spend more taxpayers money than would be necessary in the private sector because we haven’t sorted out the public sector.”

‘I’m not complacent’

Mr Streeting also said his own recovery from kidney cancer had been affected because of the impact of the Covid pandemic on the NHS.

The 38-year-old was diagnosed last year and had to take time out of work to have an operation to remove a kidney.

But soon after his return, he was promoted to shadow health secretary in Sir Keir Starmer’s reshuffle of his top team.

The Labour MP said: “I’m suffering in that sense in that I was supposed to have my six month follow up scan. We’re now approaching month eight, no scan and no appointment.”

He said he was “not lying awake at night thinking about this” as he is low risk for the cancer to return.

But, he added: “There are lots of other people who are on those waiting lists or who are on secondary care, and even with the critical incidents declared this month, who may see that their… cancer treatment disrupted in some ways.

“So I’m not complacent about this, and my own experience has made me even more passionate about bringing down waiting lists.”

In the wide ranging interview, Mr Streeting also commented on the debate around trans rights and Harry Potter author J K Rowling.

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You can download the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast with Nick Robinson from Friday, or listen to the programme on BBC Radio 4 at 17:30 GMT on Saturday.

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